By Darryl Mason
This was going to be the lead news story on most Australian TV channels last night, an emotional tribute from Prime Minister Julia Gillard to the victims of the Queensland floods and victims of a nation-rocking run of natural disasters in the past few months, a tribute many Queenslanders, and victims of floods & fires in other Australian states, needed to see, a kind of catharsis, some kind of emotional release :
The stories Prime Minister Gillard recalled from the Queensland floods are pure tragedy, stunning, jolting tales of incomprehensible loss and sacrifice that still haven't completely settled into the Australian psyche yet.
Maybe you don't like it, maybe you don't believe her, maybe you think, like a cartoonist at The Australian, that it's all part of the New Julia Show :
But whatever it was,, it was necessary, and it should have been The News tonight & today. Opposition leader Tony Abbott seem quite prepared to step back from bitter fighting over the flood levy, if only for a day or two, to let Australians see their prime minister acknowledge their pain, their shock, their feelings of distress and loss.
To say, it's okay, it's time to cry about what happened, get it out and then get on with it.
A bizarre and revolting theme had developed that PM Gillard was somehow less than human because she didn't break down in front of flood victims, which is easy to imagine would have been far more upsetting to flood victims than the way she did deal with them. Who wants the leader of their country weeping in their arms after their state had just been smashed by both floods and a massive cyclone and tens of thousands have been left homeless?
She's wooden, she's unreal, some, many, in the old and new media have hissed for months, she doesn't show enough emotion. But how much emotion does PM Gillard have to show?
Here she is at the funeral of an Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan :
Isn't that enough stress and emotion in one face? Doesn't she look shattered by a death in a war she has supported in opposition and in government for almost a decade?
PM Gillard's speech and opposition leader Tony Abbott's measured reply was a moment of reflection at the start of a new year in Australian Parliament, a chance to acknowledge that the last couple of months have been emotionally draining, for all Australians.
That was the news Australians needed, deserved to see last night.
But by a few minutes after 6pm, news priorities across all channels had changed. And instead, we got this :
Mark Riley pretending he thought Tony Abbott was talking about Australian soldiers instead of himself was just plain pathetic, and an impossible to ignore alarm bell that this 'story' was more about Mark Riley's lust for attention and desire to be a press gallery journalist who could claim a political scalp than it was about Tony Abbott saying something "innappropriate" :
Abbott : "A soldier has died, and you shouldn't be trying to turn this into a subsequent media circus."The first time seeing Abbott's 24 seconds of constant nodding, death staring and utter silence was cringe-inducing TV. The second time I saw it, I began to want to see Tony Abbott nut Mark Riley for being a total fuckhead. The third time, and the next time, and the next time, all the way through to Lateline, it was clear Tony Abbott's reaction to this offensive piece of We Make The News journalism was the right one.
Riley: "The soldier's shouldn't? I shouldn't?"
Abbott : "Yes."
The key question changed quickly from, 'Why didn't Tony Abbott say anything?' to 'In what dimension of irresponsible journalism is this even a fucking news story at all?' And 'Did Mark Riley even stop for a moment to think how the dead soldier's family and friends will feel seeing this blasted across the evening and tomorrow's news?'
From a statement released by Jared MacKinney's wife, Beckie, the day before her husband's funeral in September last year :
I would also like to express our appreciation to the media for the very sensitive manner in which they have covered the tragic events of the past few weeks, and also their ongoing respect for our privacy.
We have reached the deepest depths of despair since we were told of Jared’s death, but we have also been helped and comforted by the support and extraordinary generosity of spirit of old friends, new friends, and strangers who cared.
Beckie MacKinney, and other family members, were contacted by various journalists and news media last night, seeking comment & reaction, on both Tony Abbott's "sometimes shit happens" remark and Mark Riley's story.
Beckie MacKinney released a statement late last night saying the matter rests, that she believed Tony Abbott's comments were taken out of context by journalist Mark Riley and she would not be commenting further.
Jared MacKinney's dad, Ian, had this to say, according to the Sydney Morning Herald :
Mark Riley's Wikipedia entry was updated last night :
...the Opposition Leader's comments were ''out of line'' and made him ''feel sick''.
''My attitude would be to ignore it, to give it the least amount of credence,'' he said.He described Mr Abbott as thoughtless, ignorant and uncaring. ''It just shows how good he is, or isn't. I'm not going to let it bother me, but it just shows he's not very thoughtful. He doesn't care too much.''
The update, probably removed by now :
"He dishonours the memories of fallen soldiers and causes distress to their widows by trying to make cheap political mileage out of innocent comments by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott."Hard to argue with that.
Mark Riley bet that Tony Abbott's comment and long silence (and Channel 7 news reporter boasted on Twitter that Abbott's silence actually lasted almost a minute and a half) would be The Story. And it was. For an hour or two.
Riley must have gone to bed last night absolutely stunned at how quickly his 'story' veered from 'Tony Abbott : Still A Heartless Bastard?' to 'Why Does Mark Riley Still Have A Job?'
But, you know, like Tony Abbott says :